Safe and Effective Dry-Fire Training at Home [Guide]

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an easy, safe, and free type of firearms training you could do at home to improve your skills and shoot better?

Well, there is, and always has been: It’s called dry fire.

Dry fire means shooting without ammo, and it’s a surprisingly helpful skill builder. 

Dry firing shotgun
Handguns and rifles are what we most commonly think of when talking about dry firing, but shotgun practice is important too.

Plus…you can do it with almost any type of firearm.

We are going to dive deep into how to dry fire, cover a few dry fire drills, and of course…bust a few myths along the way.

Now with video too!

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What Is Dry Fire?

Dry fire is the act of simulating the firing your weapon without ammunition.  

Basically, you’re doing everything you’d normally do to fire off a shot…but without any ammo in (or even near) the gun.

Dry fire is one of my favorite ways to train new shooters in how to handle a firearm safely, and to teach them the very basics of weapon’s manipulation.  

Dry fire can be done inside the home with no equipment beyond your handgun, but there are some things you need to know to stay safe, and there are a few things that can make dry fire training more effective.

Dry Fire Safety

Dry fire should be a completely safe activity.  Of course you need to unload your weapon, and visually and physically ensure the weapon is clear, and a chamber flag ($10.39) wouldn’t hurt, but after that you should be totally safe.

chamber flag for dry firing
These little babys make it impossible to have a round chambered.

 

When dry firing always keep the weapon pointed in a direction away from people, animals, etc.  Now is not the time to forget the basic rules of gun safety.

If you set your firearm down to take a break, use the restroom, etc, always re-clear the weapon before you resume training.  I go overboard and store ammunition in a different room entirely myself, and I recommend you do to.  

Why Dry Fire?

Dry fire allows you to practice a wide variety of skills.  Most importantly it allows you to build a foundation of basic skills.

Brilliance in the basics will lead to success in advanced manipulation.  With dry fire, you can practice proper grip, stance, trigger control, sight picture, and sight alignment.

A little dry fire every day can help establish good habits and build muscle memory.  For me, the biggest benefit was reducing my flinch.

two for flinching stand by me
Two for flinching!

I dry fired so much when the time came to do live fire my muscle memory was of a firearm that did not recoil.  Flinch became nonexistent.  I was able to train it out of me.

How To Dry Fire

Dry firing is pretty simple.  Choose a gun, clear it, and pick a small-ish target.  

If you can…try to take something out or hang a target specifically for dry-firing.  The reason for this is to segregate your dry practice mentality.

There’s been stories where after someone finishes dry-firing and makes their weapon hot..to only practice “one more time.”

After you have a target…practice the very basics of firing your weapon.  Maintain solid control of your weapon, and stress perfection.

Align the sights perfectly, pull the trigger perfectly, do not flinch or move in any way to disturb the sight.  The goal here isn’t to get a ton of repetitions, it’s to get quality training.

Anything that disturbs my sights is evident, and gives me a good idea what I need to correct.

Dry Fire Drills

The most basic drill is listed above, and it’s the very basics, here are a few more you can do for training purposes.

Coin Trick

This is a unique little trick you can do to really practice your trigger contol only needs a coin and a gun.  Balance the coin on the front sight, as the coin balances practice your grip control.

Coin on Front Sight Dry Firing
Coin on Front Sight Dry Firing

Any error will cause the quarter to fall, which will show you what you’re doing wrong. 

Draw!

Mcree draw
Who doesn’t love being a cowboy?

With a holster and gun you can practice your draw, as well as getting your gun on target, getting the sights aligned and firing.

Drawing practice can start slow, without a timer, and allow you to focus on the proper grip, draw, and how to get on target.  You have to learn it slowly before you can learn it fast.

Remember, slow is smooth and smooth is fast.

Only go faster as you perfect it at a slower pace.

You can also practice in a more defensive manner using a realistic silhouette target and practice placing shots center mass as you draw.

Reloading

Start with your slide locked to the rear, with an empty magazine inserted.  You’ll need a spare magazine and magazine pouch.  Remove the spring and follower from the spare magazine.

Get into your normal stance and firing position with the slide locked to the rear.  Put your sights on target, register one mental “Bang” and reload your firearm.

Removing the follower and spring will allow you to send the slide home during the reload.

You can also pick up some nice training magazines for this purpose that will match the fit and feel of a loaded magazine.

One Hand

one handed shooting
Shooting one handed, especially with your non-dominant hand, is always good practice.

Firing one handed accurately is twice as hard as firing with two hands. It’s also a good skill to have with a handgun in case of emergency. This is quite simple, practice dry firing with one hand.

Alternate between your dominant and non-dominant hand to practice with both. This allows you to train to be ambidextrous. You can also toss in practicing transitions between strong and weak hands.

Positions

You can also spice up any of the above drills by changing positions as you train. Training from the sitting, kneeling, and prone positions make you a more rounded shooter.

You can also practice engaging targets behind cover.  I like to practice with a doorway acting as my cover.  I train standing, kneeling, and even in the prone with both left and right hands. 

one handed doorway shooting
You can then try the same thing at the range.

When To Dry Fire

The most beneficial time to utilize dry fire is right after live fire.  Your muscle memory will be fresh with your mistakes.

I tend to run my students through the “dry fire Oreo”.  We start with dry fire, move to live fire and finish with dry fire.

The first few attempts of dry fire will often allow easy diagnoses of their shooting problems because mentally they’ll still be prepared to fire a live round.

When I say after shooting, I mean right after shooting, unload, show clear, and dry fire.  Use the same live fire range, same target, everything.  This muscle memory of mistakes will only last for about a dozen or so dry fire attempts before your body and mind remember it’s dry firing.

dry firing at the range
Shooting and then following up with dry fire is a great, cheap way to fix all sorts of issues with your shooting

Any clenching, eye closing, flinching, or sympathetic movement will be apparent.

Off the range and at home I suggest trying to do 15 minutes of dry fire a day.  That’s it, that’s all you need to be a better shooter.  Do it after work, before work, whenever you feel productive enough to give 15 focused minutes to dry firing practice.

But Won’t it Break My Gun?

The most prevalent myth is that dry fire is bad for your gun.  Like most every myth, this one contains a grain of truth.

There are a variety of firearms out there that dry firing is bad for, mainly rimfires.  With a rimfire, the firing pin strikes the rim of the round, and without a round present the fire strikes the rim of the chamber.

This can lead to mushroomed and dented firing pins as well as dented chambers.  The exception being some Ruger rimfires.  The manual for the Ruger 10/22, Page 20, says it’s perfectly safe to dry fire their 10/22s.  It’s also our best rimfire rifle for beginners, so everyone should have one…or three…in their collection.

A rugged and robust American classic

The second group of guns is older firearms.  This includes any revolver without a transfer bar and some older semi-automatics.  On one of these older revolvers and semi-autos, the firing pins go too far forwards because they didn’t hit a primer.  

This causes the firing pin to overtravel and for a portion of it to hit the sides of firing pin channel.

Over time this was fixed through the use of stronger firing pins in semi-automatics and the use of transfer bars and hammer blocks in revolvers.  If you own a modern firearm this is not an issue for you.

If you own an antique of any kind I’d be wary of dry fire, as well as any revolver with a firing pin attached to the hammer.  If you own one of these older firearms or a rimfire it’s best to make use of a Snap Cap ($16) while dry firing.

A Snap Cap is a dummy round with a soft primer.  This allows the firing pin to land harmlessly on the soft primer.  They even make Snap Caps for rimfire rifles, pistols, shotguns, and revolvers.

Optional Dry Fire Gear

Dry fire is prevalent enough that many shooters.  As such a number of different systems has come to be that make dry firing more enjoyable, more challenging and even more beneficial.

These systems aren’t needed to benefit from dry fire but are an excellent addition.  At the end of the day, you only need a gun and 15 minutes to dry fire train.

SIRT

The SIRT Pistol ($439.99) is a non-gun that replicates either a full sized handgun or pocket pistol.  There is also an AR 15 laser bolt that drops in to your rifle.

SIRT Pistol
This thing is pricy, but worth it if you want to seriously improve your shooting.

These systems weigh close to the same as the real guns it emulates,  and utilizes an integrated laser.

This laser activates every time the trigger is pulled, and it shows you where you theoretically hit.  The trigger pull is somewhat lighter than most real handguns, but for learning the basics, and having a 100% always safe option it is a solid contender.

SIRT options give you visual feedback and will function with most of the laser systems we will discuss a little later.  SIRT pistols are a little pricey, but the AR bolt is quite affordable.  You can even purchase extra SIRT magazines that replicated the real weight of loaded magazines for training drills

Laser Ammo Cartridges

The Laser Ammo brand offers a wide range of Laser Training options for firearms and even airsoft guns.  Their flagship is the Laser Ammo cartridge.  This cartridge fits in the chamber of your actual firearm and when the firing pin strikes the cartridge a laser is fired.

This allows safe and effective training with your own handgun for about half the price of the SIRT.  They have options for 9mms, 380s, 45 ACP, 10mm, 223, 12 Gauge, 40 S&W, 357 SIG, 45 Long Colt, 44 Magnum, and more.

Laser Ammo even offers a wide variety of Laser Targets that react to the lasers from the Laser cartridge, and some even interact with each other.

I’ve been using these systems for a long period of time and been very happy with them.  I have the 9mm cartridge kit ($139.00), the Laser Pet and I’ve spent a lot of time with the I-MTTS system.  

Check out more in our Best Laser Ammo & Targets article.

Laserlyte

There’s also the old stalwart…Laserlyte that’s lasted me for thousands of shots (and still going).  A little less expensive than the Laser Ammo versions at around $90 a pop.  You can check out the variety of calibers.

Laserlyte 9mm Laser Trainer
Laserlyte 9mm Laser Trainer

Plus some targets ($115) that let you know where you hit…and some that even make steel *ting ting* noises and move around.

Laserlyte SteelTyme
Laserlyte SteelTyme

Again, check out more in our Best Laser Ammo & Targets article.

Laser Training Targets
Laser Training Targets

MantisX

You’ve seen the lasers…now here’s something that gives you exact feedback from the comfort of your phone.

The MantisX ($150) attaches to your rail and lets you know exactly what’s wrong with your trigger pull and how to fix it.  Plus it also works live at the range.

High-Tech Dry-Firing
149
at MantisX

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Full review here…spoilers…we really like it.

The MantisX mounts up easily to any weapon with a rail though if you mount to top or a side (rifle for instance) you must select that in the settings
Our MantisX on a Glock 17

Becoming a Dry Fire Pro

Becoming a dry fire pro takes time, patience, and the ability to really keep after it.  15 minutes a day can both improve your skills and maintain your skills when you can’t hit the range.  Dry fire training can’t fully replace live fire training but compliments it.  You’d be surprised a what a little dry fire can do for you.

Will you be adding dry fire training into your practice routine? Have any more questions about safe and effective training? Let us know in the comments below!

And check out our online Beginner Handgun Course…Gun Noob to Gun Slinger.  We cover the basics PLUS how to become a crack shot.

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24 Leave a Reply

  • Michael "Mick" Imfeld

    I have a laser insert for my HKP2000SK and an itarget . If I want to practice at SA trigger pull, I need to rack the slide after every trigger pull. I would like to find a laser trainer that would allow me to do double taps and repetitive shooting with about a 4 lb. trigger pull that wouldn't require me to rack a slide. Any ideas?

    4 weeks ago
  • Ricky

    Two questions: Aviators Tactical has its laser training cartridge for $38.75 which is way less than the ones you recommend. Is that because Aviators Tactical's quality/functionality is not as good? If you insert one of these laser cartridges in a 1911 .45 ACP, do you simply cock the trigger with your thumb each time you "shoot" the laser? Do you or should you cock the trigger by pulling the slide as well?

    3 months ago
  • Kevin

    You suggested using a chamber flag for safety while conducting dry-fire training. A better product is the the Barrel Bloc. A chamber flag keeps the gun out of battery and therefore you are unable to operate the trigger. The Barrel Bloc fills the chamber and allows the action to full close, thus keeping the firearm perfectly safe AND allowing you to work that action as you would during live fire training.

    3 months ago
  • Skip Kirkwood

    Having a hard time finding Laser Lyte targets. Have they gone out of business?

    3 months ago
    • Lonnie

      Check out the iTarget. I have enjoyed using mine, plus much cheaper than most options, $107 tax and shipping included. Hopefully Pew Pew will review some day.

      3 months ago
  • Bill

    Competition shooters know the importance of daily dry fire practice at home, and how it translates to live fire shooting in the field. It improves technique which is 90% of the shot. Using a laser ammo/target combination helps tremendously. Just make sure the laser ammo can easily be inserted and removed from your weapon. Within your own personal limitation issues, practice your shooting stances daily committing everything to muscle memory. If you use a shooting stick, include it in your practice. However, don't forget to practice your freestyle shooting stances because, if you are a hunter, there will instances when you will have to shoot an animal freestyle. Shooting is one of those skills that you must use it or lose it, so daily practice is important. If you anticipate shooting while wearing a backpack, practice wearing your backpack. Make your practice as realistic as possible. If you anticipate shooting around corners and vegetation, practice shooting in these environments. Dry practice will make a world of difference in the field.

    4 months ago
  • Donovan Brooks

    need to include the Cool Fire trainer in this article. The absolute best dry-fire tool I own

    5 months ago
  • Gene Hickman

    Good article Travis. Pew Pew Tactical is my go-to sight for lots of good gun and shooting information. I was wondering if you have used the G-sight system. It seems to be a good inexpensive way to train.

    6 months ago
  • Eric

    Like David Phillips, I like to re-read Pew Pew articles for solid, accurate information with a sense of safety and humor rolled into one. Practice and muscle memory is so important. Many folks think you only gain skill going to the range, when you can really gain skill prior to the range making your range time more worth while.

    10 months ago
  • David Phillips

    Very good article, and one I've linked to re-read as I go through a medically forced downtime. Just a couple of suggestions. Point out that the chamber safety flag you link is a pack of 6, for the price. There's also a product called Barrel-Block, that fits into the chamber, protrudes from the barrel, and lets you completely close the slide. It's effectively a chamber safety flag, and snap cap rolled into one. It comes with magazine blocks as well, which let you have a magazine in, and rack the slide without your snap cap flying out & rolling under a sofa. I haven't read your Mantis X review yet, but have learned that they sell magazine floor plates for the system if your pistol doesn't have a rail. Finally, you rite gud for a jarhead :-)

    10 months ago
  • Jennie

    Informative article. Excited to try my recently purchased Mantis X. Question: do you have recommendations for low cost outdoor target stands?

    1 year ago
  • Tom

    I use paper targets and dryfireonline.com

    1 year ago
    • Jim1911

      On a piece of paper/cardboard I scale down (simple math) 25, 15 and 7 yard targets to the equivalent size as seen at 10 feet, which is my dry fire room.

      6 months ago
  • Hammer

    Solid article. I tend to think of it as simply "dry practice," in which there may be some "firing" involved, but sometimes not at all. I spent 20 minutes the other night just working on smooth and efficient reloads, and then fast sight acquisition from the draw. Regardless, I think that doing these "dry" drills regularly, until they feel automatic, pays huge dividends.

    1 year ago
  • Richard Hyman

    Excellent article and I took some great notes away from this. I've been researching how to get rid of a flinch that has crept back into my shooting. Still relatively tight shot groups but a definite down and left drift at higher calibers. So off to the internet I go and of course I started with Pewpewtactical. I recommend the site to everyone I know and you didn't let me down in researching this. I made note of all the drills and a mental note to commit to the 15min a day to get rid of this flinch. Also, thanks to the shining endorsements from other readers I've added the Mantis to my list of things to do some research into and potentially pickup. I'm already liking what everyone has had to say about it. As always, thanks for the tips, tricks, and techniques. I always get a great education when I peruse through here! VR, Richard

    1 year ago
  • Jon

    Hey Travis, great article. If you could only choose one dry fire system, which would you choose. I was thinking the iTarget but the MantisX looks like it might really be helpful

    1 year ago
    • Tom

      I have the MantisX trainer and it it awesome. You can get analysis paralysis if you try to “fix” every shot feedback. Looking at the overall feedback is more beneficial. Live fire works even with others shooting around you. And it works for handguns, rifles and shotguns with some needing an adapter. It’s like having an instructor over your shoulder on each shot. Get it, you won’t regret it. Show to your shooting friends and they’ll likely get one!

      1 year ago
  • Mary Ann

    I have been working at dry-fire rather half-heartedly for about 2 months. I found it rather boring and non helpful. I then learned of the MantisX...wow. Now I find dry-fire training FUN and very informative. I've already learned two errors I wasn't aware of along with improving other skills as well. It's a great tool for the cost AND it can be used by multiple people on multiple firearms. You do need a rail to attach it. One of my favorites has it; looking for attachments for a couple others. My husband and I both have 'accounts' and take turns using the tool. Can't wait to try it at the range with live ammo!

    2 years ago
  • Tony

    Any thoughts on using an air pistol or other CO2 system for dry fire training?

    2 years ago
  • Andrew

    I bought a 9mm laser and a AR15 bolt laser... the latter is terribly built and hardly works. The former is okay but still not that great....

    2 years ago
  • Dave

    Excellent article Travis, well written and informative. I recommend this site to everyone I instruct regardless their skill level. Keep up the great work.

    3 years ago
    • Travis Pike

      Thanks Dave, always appreciate the feedback.

      3 years ago
  • Bill Kramer

    Interesting and well written article, full of tips. I need to check into the I-Target Pro system, sounds like it would be very handy!

    3 years ago
    • Travis Pike

      For the price it's an excellent option. There is also an additional quick draw mode available for 4.99 if you want to time your drawing.

      3 years ago
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